Divide counties into districts for supervisors
Saturday, April 20, 2013
Beth Cody, Writers’ Group member
Iowa City Press-Citizen

A group of Republicans, Democrats and independents are petitioning to change how the Johnson County Board of Supervisors is elected, to allow for greater representation for rural residents.

The Board of Supervisors makes important decisions that affect both rural and city residents, but because the board is nearly always comprised solely of residents of Iowa City, rural residents can feel their concerns are being given short shrift.

  • *The Board decides county property tax rates for both rural and urban taxpayers, and currently rural residents pay much a higher county rate than urban residents – and rural rates will increase even more than urban rates starting July 1. There may be a justifiable reason for this, but rural residents would certainly feel reassured to have “taxation with representation” among the board setting rural rates, so as to avoid the appearance of rural taxpayers being taken advantage of.
  • *The Board oversees construction and maintenance of the secondary roads system, which obviously directly affects rural residents. This is what many rural taxpayers believe is the main service that they pay taxes for, and direct representation will reassure them that this basic service will be a priority for the county. 
  • *The Board makes zoning decisions for unincorporated areas of the county, which often centers around the highly contentious issue of whether rural landowners are allowed to use their property to make a living the way they see fit. Most rural dwellers have very different beliefs about their natural rights in this area than do city dwellers, who, living so closely to their neighbors, expect and often welcome stricter zoning laws to protect their property. These differences should be respected and they should be represented on a board that makes decisions about rural property rights.

 

While board members who reside in Iowa City may believe that they can see things from the point of view of rural residents and certainly do their best to be impartial, their decisions are based upon their personal views, which are undoubtedly influenced by their backgrounds: where they grew up and what they were raised to believe is right, which does, in fact, differ to some degree between rural and urban folk.

The petition, if it receives enough signatures, would allow voters to decide whether to divide Johnson County into five districts, in each of which the residents would vote for a candidate who resides in that district.

This would allow rural residents to choose among rural candidates, and urban residents to choose among urban candidates.

And it would have the effect of allowing rural voters, who are now vastly outnumbered by city voters, to elect candidates who represent their interests.

This is far from an unusual arrangement: our two neighboring counties, Linn County and Washington County, recently adopted the very same district system that our local petition now proposes.

Local government is often the most important level of government, and it is certainly the level over which voters have the most direct control, which allows people to feel they have a voice in how they are governed. This proposal allows for greater local representation and a stronger voice for the people being governed.

The petition needs 10,000 signatures by May 1st, which is a daunting task indeed for a small group of rural residents and the sympathetic city volunteers who recognize that greater representation is the fair ideal of democracy.

If you would like to sign the petition (any resident of Johnson County can sign, not just registered voters) or volunteer to help gather signatures, email Roger Anderson at ***. Or look for petition volunteers around the Pentacrest and at upcoming area events during the next two weeks.

The Board of Supervisors is supposed to represent all the residents of Johnson County, not just those who live in Iowa City. Greater representation is fairer, better democracy, which all who live in Johnson County can agree upon.